Seeking the Legacy of Australian Sapphire

Australian sapphire is little known in most markets because of the relationship the Australian mines have with the Thailand gemstone trade. Australia is a major supplier of Basalt hosted Sapphires and has large deposits being worked since the mid 1800’s and early 1900’s. The markets have had little knowledge of the existence of these Australian mining operations because they were often sold as being sourced from other areas such as Cambodia. These source of high grade sapphire in Australia and the relationship with Thailand’s gem industry have had a direct affect of the current markets in the gem and jewelry trades.

Large amounts of these stones are cut and sold from Thailand and they often end up in Russia’s fine jewelry markets. Australian sapphire has more iron content than those from places like Myanmar, which is the reason for its rich deep blue color. The Australian sapphire mining operations were never mechanized until the 1960’s and 70’s so they had limited supply’s of rough stone coming out of the mines. Many operations are of alluvial nature and surface mined. It seems that no one is yet mining the main source of these alluvial stones at there volcanic source.

    The moment I held that stone up to the sun and saw a deep vibrant royal blue color throughout the sapphire…I knew I was hooked.
—Peter Brown, Sapphire Miner and Mine-to-Market Entrepreneur

australiansapphire3Sapphire was discovered in Australia during the 1850s gold rushes and 1870s tin mining. One of the earliest written records is from 1851, when sapphire was found in New South Wales. Though the long history of sapphire mining and commercial production spans at least the past half century, Australian sapphire has not received the recognition it warrants from either the global gem and jewelry industry or the consumer market. The top-quality Australian stones were sold as being from other sources, such as “Pailin” from Cambodia. Australia’s sizable commercial-quality sapphire production and its contribution to the rest of the world, especially the current corundum trading center of Thailand, are under-recognized. The trade between the Aussies and the Thais led to the global sapphire industry’s current dynamics.

To enrich GIA’s global corundum research and learn the full story of the Australian sapphire industry, the Institute sent a group of field gemologists to explore the most important sapphire gem fields in eastern Australia. The group was led by GIA senior field gemology manager Vincent Pardieu and composed of field gemologist Andrew Lucas, Gems & Gemology technical editor Tao Hsu, assistant field gemologist Victoria Raynaud, and field cameramen Didier Gruel and Didier Barriere Doleac. The Institute’s field gemologists have covered all important sapphire fields in Australia—earlier this year another team led by Vincent Pardieu visited Tasmania’s sapphire fields. READ MORE…

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About Rob

I have been designing military coins and jewelry for nearly 40 years now.